A dog coughing occasionally is not unusual, especially because they spend a lot of their walks with their noses to the ground! Sniffing is used to explore their environment as their sense of smell is much more sensitive than ours, but often means they will breathe in dust and germs. A continuous or severe cough however is not normal and veterinary advice should be sought. Many causes of coughing in dogs can be easily treated but need an accurate diagnosis in order to do so. The more information you can provide the better; the duration and severity of the cough, if it is productive or not. If productive, is it clear or green mucus, is it bloody? Taking a video of the dog coughing is really useful. Also taking notes of the dog’s overall health such as appetite or lethargy all help to build a picture.
Kennel cough is probably the most common cause of an acute onset hacking cough. It is a highly contagious respiratory infection. In most healthy dogs it is not serious, but young, old or those with another health issue can be more susceptible to complications. Dogs that attend group training classes, boarding kennels or day care are at higher risk of contracting the condition. Most organisations require dogs to have a kennel cough vaccination prior to attending, this is given intranasally or intraorally and provide protection for 1 year.
Unfortunately like most vaccinations they are not 100% effective, but they will help reduce the severity and duration of disease. Some dogs will not require treatment, but some will need a course of antibiotics or anti inflammatories to reduce inflammation of the windpipe and airways. Dogs with kennel cough should be kept away from other dogs and not walked.
Heart disease is another common cause of coughing in the dog. A leaky heart valve or a weak heart muscle stops the heart from pumping blood efficiently. Coughing occurs when an enlarged heart presses on the major airways or fluid leaks into the lungs. This is called pulmonary oedema. The condition is more common in older dogs, the cough often has a gradual onset and is usually worse at night. You may also notice a reduction in exercise tolerance. Most dogs will require medication to improve heart function.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Dogs with Pneumonia are usually very poorly; have a fever, poor appetite and increased respiratory rate. They will often require hospitalisation to receive intravenous medication.